AN ELEVENTH-hour intervention by the Government has cast doubt on multi-million pound plans for a Tesco superstore and to redevelop Lancashire (LCCC) cricket ground.

The Government has sent a bombshell letter to the council that said the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, was reviewing an earlier decision not to 'call in' the application.

It ordered the council not to ratify planning permission until this review was completed.

This latest uncertainty comes six months after Trafford's planning chiefs backed the scheme, which will see Tesco open a 170,000 sq ft store on land fronting Chester Road.

Tesco would pay £21m for a plot of local authority-owned land and Trafford Council would then use this cash to fund LCCC's next phase of a £33m development of its ground.

Lancashire says these improvements are essential if it is to regain Test match status.

The uncertainty caused by the local government department's letter has given fresh hope to opponents of the scheme, who claim such a large store would have a devastating effect on trade in the surrounding areas.

Leader of the Labour group, Cllr David Acton - one of the prime opponents of the Lancashire/Tesco development - said: "This is a spectacular 'u-turn' by the secretary of state and puts in doubt the Tesco/LCCC planning proposals.

"I feel strongly that the planning processes conducted by Trafford with regard to this application should be properly tested out and scrutinised by an independent planning public inquiry.

"I just hope now that common sense will prevail and that the secretary will call-In the planning application, as he should have done in the first place.

"I think that if the application is not called-in the council could find the planning decision will be challenged through the courts, which in turn could cost Trafford taxpayers thousands of pounds."

The leader of Trafford Council, Matt Colledge, said: "This delay is disappointing as we are in a position to issue the planning permission for the scheme.

"We have been in contact with the secretary of state urging him to confirm his original decision so we can authorise the permission and see the plans, and the associated benefits, become reality."

This latest twist is linked to a counter proposal put forward by Derwent Holdings for a 90,000 sq ft Sainsbury's supermarket on nearby White City Retail Park.

This was rejected by Trafford's planning committee on the grounds that it would impact on trade.

At the same meeting in March the committee agreed it was 'minded to grant' the proposal for the Tesco store and to redevelop Lancashire's ground.

It was referred to the Government for a final decision - which initially decided not to call in the application.

Now, though, it is looking at the issue again after receiving a letter from Derwent's solicitors challenging the secretary of state's decision not to intervene.

That prompted a letter from the Government department to Trafford Council that said: "It has now been decided that further consideration should be given to the question of whether the applicant should be called in for the secretary of state's own determination ...the secretary of state will now, therefore, consider the matter afresh."

The letter concluded: "We will complete our consideration of the application and let you know whether or not we intend to intervene in the matter as soon as we can."

Lancashire's chief executive, Jim Cumbes, has said that any hold-ups in implementing the scheme could have serious consequences for the club.

He wrote in Lancashire's summer edition of its 'Spin' magazine of his delight when the Government said in June that the application would not be called in. He said that "a 'call in' could easily have slowed our progress by 18 months, and in fact might have scuppered it completely."

Derwent Holdings declined to comment. The company's appeal against the council's decision not to grant planning permission for its supermarket scheme at White City Retail Park will begin on September 22.